May 2014

By Val G. Abelgas

Obama and Aquino

Obama and Aquino

With China increasingly aggressive in asserting its territorial claims over most of the South China, it is inevitable that its smaller neighbors would form strategic defense alliances to protect themselves from the region’s bully.

The Philippine government was right in seeking strategic alliances with Japan, Vietnam and, of course, the United States. After forging a defense accord with Japan, the Philippines signed last week a roadmap towards a strategic defense partnership with Vietnam, China’s former ally.

Nguyen Tan Dung and Aquino

Nguyen Tan Dung and Aquino

The agreement presents the start of a united front against Chinese incursions in the disputed isles in the South China Sea, almost 90% of which is being claimed by the Chinese using an ancient map dating back to the time of the dynasties.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam are embroiled in escalating disputes with China over oil and marine resources-rich areas in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese ships recently engaged in a battle of water cannons with Chinese coast guard vessels near the Paracel Islands when the Chinese pulled a gigantic oilrig to the area obviously to begin tapping oil and natural gas in the area. Luckily, both protagonists opted to use water cannons instead of real cannons. Earlier, Vietnamese fishing vessels collided with a Chinese frigate that was part of the convoy towing the oilrig.

In 1974, the Chinese took control of the Paracels, which are well within the 200-mile economic zone of Vietnam, after a brief battle that resulted in the death of 54 Vietnamese troops.

Shinzo Abe and Aquino

Shinzo Abe and Aquino

The Chinese have also been slowly occupying islands claimed by the Philippines that are well within the country’s 200-mile economic zone. In 1993, the Chinese started occupying Panganiban or Mischief Reef and last year began occupying Panatag or Scarborough Shoal after a long standoff. In May last year, the Chinese sent a fleet of fishing vessels, two large civilian ships and a frigate to waters near the Ayungin Shoal. And early this month, the Chinese were found to be reclaiming land and building an airstrip over the Mabini Reef, which is very close to Zambales.

Despite repeated protests, Chinese officials insisted that they have the right to do anything in the disputed islands because they were rightfully theirs.

It is increasingly obvious that China could not be deterred by protests and the filing of legal cases before the international courts in its bid to take control of the South China Sea, which is critical to its goal of becoming a world superpower by 2025.

The 1.7 million square kilometers of the disputed South China Sea area is believed to contain from seven billion to as high as 130 billion barrels of oil reserves, and billions of barrels of natural gas, important resources that are necessary to fuel China’s economy and consequent rise as a superpower. The area is also a rich source of fish and other marine resources to feed the more than a billion Chinese.

Just as importantly, the area is a major shipping lane for many nations and accounts for more than half of the world’s shipping activity.

Amid the escalating tension in the area, analysts are questioning the weak and tentative response of the Obama administration. They said that after announcing a “pivot to Asia,” the US government has not really done much to back up its promise. Instead, they argue, Russia has done more to pivot to Asia, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping all but formalizing a Russian-Chinese alliance earlier this month.

Putin and Xi signed an energy agreement that calls for Russia to supply China with $400 billion of natural gas over the next 30 years. And to show to the world that they have become comrades in arms, the Russian and Chinese Navies held a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea amid territorial tensions in Asia.

While China is spending billions of dollars to beef up its military muscle, the US is actually cutting down on its military budget as it focuses on its domestic problems.

Just like the Philippines, the US is aware that it needs to forge stronger alliances with Asian nations to counter the emerging Russo-Chinese alliance in the region. The US is not ready to build expensive new bases in the region, but it can reach agreements with host countries to use existing bases, just as it did with the Philippines through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The US is also planning to expand its use of bases in Australia and Japan, and possibly Singapore and Thailand. In addition, Washington is wooing Malaysia. These countries are in the thick of an Asian arms race with China, which has become inevitable as their economies grow.

The world has indeed changed. The rise and fall of economies have resulted in shifting alliances, where friends have become foes and vice versa. Russia and China were major allies of the US in World War II and are now major rivals in the race for world dominance. Japan and Germany, which were the Americans; biggest enemies in the Second World War, on the other hand, are now America’s allies.

Vietnam was an ally of both Russia and China during the Vietnam War in the 60s, but is now an important American ally. Japan, which invaded and occupied the Philippines for five years in the Second World War, is now a Philippine ally.

Europe and the Pacific were the main theaters in the Second World War, and from all indications, Asia would continue to be the flashpoint in the world’s military theater in the coming years. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, the two Koreas, and other Asian countries are all beefing up their military muscles in one of the biggest arms races the world has ever seen.

The Philippines, which does not have the means to keep up with its neighbors in the arms race, needs to start positioning itself rightly in this developing drama.



By Dario Agnote
Kyodo News
Security plan to ensure access to hydrocarbon reserves in disputed sea

???????????MANILA – The Philippine military has drawn up a 4-year plan to beef up its security fence in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) to deter China from occupying more features, including those in the energy resource-rich areas in the disputed sea, a senior military official told Kyodo News on Tuesday.

The move is to protect the Philippines’ “national interests” in the wake of China’s “increasing poaching activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones, harassment of Filipino fishermen and increased presence of Chinese vessels and aircraft in the disputed sea,” according to an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

“We need to ensure access to these oil-and gas-rich areas which are within our territory,” the official said, referring to the three potential hydrocarbon reserves of northwest Palawan, southwest Palawan and Reed Bank in the South China Sea.

The increasing presence of China’s warships and maritime surveillance ships in the contested sea have stalled Manila’s plans to start offshore oil and natural gas drilling activities off Palawan, an island province facing the South China Sea where these fields are located.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino, whose presidential term ends in 2016, has been attempting to explore these areas during his watch to raise money to fund his programs to alleviate poverty.

“(The plan includes) beefing up the forces of military’s western command in occupied islands while increasing the presence of northern command units in (Bajo de Masinloc),” the official said, referring to Scarborough Shoal which China occupied in 2012.

“It is highly evident now that the recent incidents are already on the east of the Mischief Reef (which China occupied in 1995 and fortified into a naval base). This shows that the foreign intrusions are closer to our shorelines, which increase the threat level to our country,” according to a classified assessment paper seen by Kyodo News.

“There is an actual threat,” said a military officer, citing the “active presence of Chinese ships, including frigates, around the Second Thomas Shoal.”


The sustained presence of Chinese ships around the shoal indicates Beijing’s intention to gain military control of Reed Bank, about 85 nautical miles from Palawan Island.

“China will occupy Reed Bank,” the officer said. “It is highly possible that China is determined to assert its claim politically and militarily.”

Citing China’s strategy, the official said it also plans to occupy Sabina Shoal, Amy Douglas Shoal and Boxall Reef, which the Philippines considers part of its exclusive economic zone. “Occupying these shoals and reef is vital in creeping towards Reed Bank.”

“Occupation of Boxall Reef will restrict our activities in Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin Shoal) and could put pressure for us to abandon that shoal,” he said.

“To address this situation,” the paper says, “our current efforts are geared towards the forward deployment of two patrol vessels and two reconnaissance air assets at Pag-Asa Island (Thitu Island).

Thitu Island is the seat of government of Kalayaan, a town of about 95 islands, cays, shoals and reefs that the Philippines claims in the disputed Spratly Archipelago. It is the Philippine military’s main outpost in the chain of islands, shoals, atolls and cays being contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Philippine military also plans to develop and deploy “a patrol vessel each at Lawak Island (Nanshan Island) and Rizal Reef (Commodore Reef) detachment to protect the gas and oil exploration in the Reed Bank and nearby fields.”


“(There is a need to) beef-up forces at the Philippine-held islands and the activation of a Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) joint task force utilizing a marine brigade of troops,” says the paper.

The KIG is a group of over 50 features and their surrounding waters that belong to the Philippines.

The military also plans to repair the airstrip on Thitu Island and the construction of a pier to accommodate its air and naval assets.

“With the projected gas exploration at Reed Bank, we need to develop Nanshan Island being the closest to it. There is a need to build a pier and helipad in that area and improve the buildings to bolster our security on this island,” says the paper.

“There is a need to improve the naval support facilities at naval stations Carlito Cunanan, Narciso del Rosario and Balabac to boost our defense capabilities at the backdoor.”

“Rehabilitation of Tarumpitao airstrip is also vital in support of our operations in the South China Sea…This air strip was formerly the Loran Station of the U.S. forces and at present it is occupied by the Philippine air force,” the paper says. “We also need the repair of Samariniana airstrip for joint combined operations.”

“We need to achieve a good satellite communications, radar monitoring system with full command and control and coast watch stations to all (nine) Philippine-held Nanshan Island, Thitu Island and Commodore Reef by the end of this year,” it says.

“Parola (Lankiam Cay) will be the second in order of priority being in the northernmost part of the KIG. Likas (West York Island) will be on 2016, while Patag (Flat Island), Panata (Northeast Cay) and Kota (Loaita Island) will be on 2018.”

There is a need to launch a “sustained information strategy,” the paper says. “We need to initiate and information strategy that will mainstream and raise awareness in order to gain publicity and generate more supporters globally.”

The Philippine military, one of the weakest in Asia, hopes that the “ironclad” security cloak provided for under the Philippines-U.S. Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed ahead of President Barack Obama’s April 28-29 visit to Manila will help boost its maritime defense capabilities.


(It is important for us to see what the US does if and when Nonoy decides to repel the Chinese provocative move in Mabini Reef. If she helps, then I say the EDCA was worth it. If not, then throw the agreement to the dustbin.)

Mabini Reef

Mabini Reef

The government says it will exhaust all diplomatic and legal means to prevent China from turning Mabini Reef into another Mischief Reef.

They ain’t gonna work! We’ve tried them before… in vain.

As I said in my last column, we should do as Vietnam has done in the disputed Paracels where China has planted an oil rig. She stood pat despite the ramming of her ships by the Chinese and withstood the latter’s water canons. They showed the Chinese they are ready to die for what they believe is right. And the Chinese have backed down. They have not withdrawn the oil rig and their ships, but neither have the Vietnamese withdrawn their ships.

We should send some of our ships to Mabini Reef forthwith no matter how decrepit they are to prevent the Chinese from undertaking any more activities on the isle and turning it into another fortified military garrison like Mischief Reef. We should show the Chinese we are ready to fight and die for what is ours. Sure, we are no match for them and they can easily obliterate our naval vessels. But that would be an attack on our territory. That would be an opportunity for the US to put her money where her mouth is. Isn’t that what EDCA is for?

I wonder if anyone has noticed that US Secretary of State John Kerry termed the Chinese action against the Vietnamese as “provocative”. On Mabini Reef, not a peep. And Vietnam is not even an ally, or what Washington likes to say a “treaty ally” to whom she has an ironclad commitment, an ally who should not stand alone.

A military source said, “We are doing all necessary means through the usual protocols. We are exerting what is necessary to dissuade or discourage them.”

What “means”, pray tell? And through what “usual protocols”? The Chinese have already rejected our diplomatic protest.


President Noynoy Aquino may wish to take note of what his friend, Prime Minister Najib Razak, said about Malaysia’s policy regarding her territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

Razak said the policy is not to jeopardize the “strategic importance” of his country’s ties with Beijing.
“We must look at the big picture and not define relations with China on a single-issue basis but look at the broad spectrum of the relations, and recognize the strategic importance of our bilateral relationship with China. We do not want [the territorial] issue to be an impediment to the growing ties between Malaysia and China,” Razak said during his recent visit to Japan.

Noynoy has uttered similar sentiments in the past which everyone thought was fine. But being the Amboy that he and his minions are, he succumbed to US pressure to “jeopardize” the “broad spectrum of relations and recognize the strategic importance of our bilateral relationship with China” by approving the lopsided Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

That is why it is important for us to see what the US does if and when Nonoy decides to repel the Chinese provocative move in Mabini Reef. If she helps, then I say the EDCA was worth it. If not, then throw the agreement to the dustbin.


Vice President Jejomar Binary has gotten it all wrong. He said he didn’t mind the report that the US National Security Agency had spied on him last year.

The point is, it is not about him. A foreign power has been spying on us and the number two official of the land doesn’t mind?! I wonder what he would do should he become president.

Obviously, spying on officials of a foreign government or even private persons is for an ulterior motive designed to subvert the interests of those spied upon. President Binay? Hmm…


The soon-to-retire AFP chief, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said the EDCA is a “creative way to counter threats”. So how come China is reclaiming land on Mabini Reef obviously intended for military purposes and it is not countered? That’s a threat to us. Even to the US.

Noynoy’s administration is desperately trying its best to defend EDCA before the eyes of our people and the world.

For the umpteenth time, I would like to state categorically the simple truths which the EDCA advocates have been trying so frantically to obfuscate:

1) The EDCA is lopsided. It is decidedly not mutually beneficial.
2) It was entered into by the US because it is in her interest to do so, not for the love of us.
3) The US needs to have an increased presence in these parts to deter China from completely dominating the region.
4) The fact that by virtue of the EDCA, there will be US troops and military facilities, equipment, etc., based on our soil is irrefutable.
5) They may not be in the nature of the former US bases in Clark and Subic, but the fact still remains that there will be US troops and facilities based on our soil. Section 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution prohibits that… unless ratified as a treaty by both parties!

There… I hope that is clear enough to be understood by everyone, particularly those narrow-minded defenders of EDCA.

I hasten to clarify, however, that had the EDCA been a more equitable arrangement that is truly mutually beneficial, then that would be a different story.

Let me repeat… the US is here merely because it is in her interest to be here. Our perceived interest is only incidental to hers. Example: it was in her interest to invade Iraq. Now they have moved out because it is no longer in her interest to remain there. Same thing in Afghanistan. She will be moving out this year because it is no longer in her interest to be there.

More, she has not chosen to enter the fray in Syria because it would not be in her interest to do so, regardless of the massive human rights violations against the Syrian people. Likewise, she is not risking a confrontation with Russia over the Crimea and the Ukraine because it is not in her interest to do so, regardless of her much-vaunted democratic advocacy.

And closer to home, she has decided to stay neutral in our territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, unlike in the case of Japan, because her relations with China are more important to her than her relations with us. Her relations with Japan are also worth more to her than those with us. We are just a convenient tool in preserving and protecting her interests in the area.

So there… any question?


China and Russia have just concluded a 30-year $400 billion gas supply agreement. The huge deal was finally signed after a decade of negotiations.

Under the contract, Russia could eventually be supplying 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China.

Hopefully, this development may somehow quench China’s thirst for energy supply and temper her aggressive and provocative moves in the South China Sea that are apparently driven by her need for more energy to fuel her still growing industries.


For a while, the so-called Three Furies of the Nonoy administration have been much ballyhooed.

These days, however, the fire in the bellies of these three Furies appears to have severely dissipated.

Ombudsman Conchita Morales has been taking her sweet time to lodge the complaint against alleged plunderers in the Sandiganbayan. Right now, she is on some insignificant errand abroad while Noynoy’s bosses anxiously await the arrest of the alleged plunderers.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been mired in the Napoles affidavit. She is also reportedly under extreme pressure from Malacanang to sanitize it.

And Commission on Audit Chairman Grace Pulido Tan appears to have stopped dead in her tracks in the pursuit and exposure of wrongdoers in government. Worse, her track record of following up on anomalies unearthed by COA has been pathetic.

Among these is COA’s exposure of irregularities in the handling by the GSIS head, Robert “Pretty Boy” Vergara, of members’ contribution to the state pension fund, subject of the second item in the Reminders (for Noynoy) section below.

There is also the still outstanding and unbelievably obscene compensation of P16.36 million that Vergara received in 2012, as well as the issue of the huge bonuses that members of the GSIS Board of Trustees (trustees, my foot!) received last year and the year before that.

Paging Ms. Tan who, reports say, is among those about to be nominated to a pending vacancy in the Supreme Court.


Reminders (for Noynoy):

1) Filing of charges against officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) during Arroyo’s illegitimate regime. Noynoy himself said on several occasions that there is documentary evidence to prove the venalities in the past in that agency;

2) Investigation of reported anomalies in the GSIS during the watch of Winston Garcia and order his successor, Robert “Pretty Boy” Vergara, to file the proper charges, if warranted, against the former;

Noynoy should also order Vergara to report to him on COA’s findings that:

(a) He received the obscenely excessive compensation of P16.36 million in 2012 making him the highest paid government servant then, as well as how much he received in 2013; and

(b) That, about a year ago, at least P4.13 billion in contributions and loan payments made by 12 government offices to the GSIS had not been credited to the offices as of Dec. 31, 2011.

COA also said at the time that the amount of unrecorded remittances could go much higher because only 36 agencies have so far responded out of the 186 that were sent confirmation requests by government auditors. Of the 36, 27 confirmed “discrepancies” in their premium and loan payments ledgers when compared with those of the GSIS.

There are three questions being raised when remittances, or parts thereof, of government agencies are not recorded by the GSIS on time: a) Where are these huge sums “parked” in the meantime?; b) Do they earn interest?; and c) To where (whom?) does the interest, if any, go?

Pray tell, Mr. Vergara, what is the present status of these funds, including those that may have been remitted since and not yet recorded by the GSIS?

I believe it is time for COA to follow up on what Vergara has done on the above findings so that affected GSIS members would know the status of their contributions!


Today is the 30th day of the eighth year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance.

Four weeks ago, Jonas’ mother, Edita, reminded Noynoy in a letter of his promise to conduct a “dedicated and exhaustive investigation” on her son’s enforced disappearance.

“Our hope was anchored on your promise to do what you could ‘on the basis of evidence’ when I personally pleaded for your help. This was almost four years ago, May 2010,” she wrote.

Mr. President, Sir?


From an internet friend:

To the persons who would screw up my day, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your crotch and may your arms be too short to scratch. Hehehe…


27 May 2014



By Alan Dupont
The Australian

IN early January, Australian intelligence analysts watched with increasing concern as three Chinese warships passed through Indonesia’s Sunda Strait on a southerly course towards Australia in a powerful demonstration of China’s growing strategic reach.

 The first deep-water drilling rig developed in China, is pictured at 320km southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Source: AP

The first deep-water drilling rig developed in China, is pictured at 320km southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Source: AP

An AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft was quickly sent to photograph and shadow the Chinese ships, which then turned east, sailing along Java’s southern coast before transiting the Lombok Strait adjacent to Bali and returning to China.

The message from Beijing to Australia and the region was unmistakable: China is on the verge of becoming a maritime power and it will send its ships wherever it pleases.

But the deeper, more unsettling subtext to this message illuminates this era’s most important foreign policy question.

Will a rising China be a revisionist power or a responsible stakeholder in the existing international system? Judging by its ­increasingly assertive behaviour, we now have an answer.

It is abundantly clear that China is intent on challenging the status quo in Asia through the ­coercive use of its formidable economic and military power.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the western Pacific, where China is pursuing a high-stakes maritime strategy aimed at dominating the seas that bear its name and maximising its territorial and resource claims.

The dangerous escalation in tensions with Vietnam triggered by Beijing’s decision to begin drilling for oil only 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s coastline, and well within its exclusive economic zone, is merely the latest example of China’s increasingly muscular unilateralism.

When the offending HD 981 oil rig was moved into position off Vietnam’s coast earlier this month, it was flanked by a supporting fleet of up to 80 Chinese paramilitary and naval ships.

This was clearly a premeditated strategic decision approved at the highest levels of government.

The same disturbing pattern of coercive and unilateral decision- making is evident in many of China’s other maritime disputes with its neighbours.

Since 2010, there has been a worrying escalation in the number and seriousness of confrontations in both the East and South China seas involving the Chinese fishing fleet, the largest in the world, and ships from China’s maritime law-enforcement and fishing surveillance fleets, many of which are armed.

In tactics best described as “fish, protect, contest and occupy”, Chinese fishing vessels appear to have been given a government green light to fish with impunity in contested maritime areas. If other claimant states diplomatically protest or physically challenge their presence, Chinese paramilitary ships are quickly on the scene to “protect” their fishers, after which the island or reef is ­occupied and frequently garrisoned.

This creeping annexation of contested islands and reef has been pursued in the face of protests from not just Vietnam but an increasing number of other Asian countries.

The Philippines is locked in a tense confrontation with China over disputed islands in the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough/Half Moon Shoals on the eastern side of the South China Sea.

Jakarta has recently toughened its rhetoric in response to repeated incursions by the Chinese fishing fleet into the EEZ of the Indonesian owned Natuna Islands at the southern edge of the South China Sea, more than 2000km from China.

In the East China Sea, Japan, South Korea and even fraternal North Korea have all been ­involved in confrontations with Chinese fishing and paramilitary vessels. These range from low-level harassment to more serious incidents that include the ramming and sinking of ships, shootings and pitched battles between Chinese fishers and regional constabulary forces.

Beijing seems to believe that with the US distracted and preoccupied by domestic and other foreign policy challenges, a geopolitical full court press of its smaller and weaker neighbours will deliver the resources, territory and regional pre-eminence that are its rightful patrimony.

If so, this is a serious miscalculation that serves no one’s interests, least of all China’s, serving as it does to heighten fears about China’s long-term intentions in Asia, stimulating reciprocal ­responses, militarising resource disputes and worsening existing interstate rivalries.

Beijing faces increasing regional isolation as other states line up to hedge against a China whose rise is beginning to look more threatening than benign.

Five of 10 Southeast Asian states — Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — have serious or potentially serious maritime disputes with China, along with Japan and the two Koreas. If Taiwan is ­included, this adds up to more than half the polities in East Asia.

China’s worst nightmare is a more assertive, independently minded, rearmed Japan. But each outbreak of hostilities over the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea makes this outcome more likely, with Tokyo moving to reverse nearly 70 years of pacifism by allowing the Self-Defense Forces to be deployed for combat outside Japan.

Perversely, China’s patent unwillingness to accommodate other countries’ equally strong claims to the maritime features and resources that China covets has provided the opportunity for the US to reinvigorate its alliance system in East Asia and more effectively balance against China.

All this raises the question of why Beijing would engage in such an obviously counterproductive strategy if the consequences are likely to prove inimical to China’s carefully cultivated international image and long-term relations with neighbouring states.

There are several linked explanations. Like all rising powers, China wants to change the ­regional order to advance its strategic ambitions, which cannot be met while the old, US-led order prevails.

Beijing’s long-term aim seems to be what might be called a Monroe Doctrine with Chinese characteristics.

From a Chinese perspective this makes perfect strategic sense. If a rising America could construct a Monroe Doctrine in the 19th century as a blunt but effective instrument for keeping other powers out of the eastern Pacific, why should an ascendant, 21st-century China not seek a comparable ­outcome in the western Pacific?

This, of course, represents a direct challenge to US pre-eminence in Asia and, more particularly, the US Navy’s dominance of the western Pacific, where the 7th Fleet has ruled the waves since the destruction of the Japanese navy in World War II.

Such challenges are representative of the structural problem in international relations — what the eminent American strategist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides trap”.

Writing about the Peloponnesian wars in the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Thucydides observed that the previously dominant Spartans felt threatened by Athens’s remarkable rise, leading to a 30- year conflict in which both states were virtually destroyed.

Could this happen in East Asia? Sceptics argue that such historical allusions are far-fetched, pointing out that the increasing trade interdependence between China, the US and the wider region mitigates the risk of conflict because it raises the cost of war to all sides. True, but it should not be forgotten that Britain and Germany’s extensive trade ties in the early 20th century did not prevent them going to war in 1914. And a recent study by Georgetown University’s Oriana Mastro suggests that East Asian countries, including China, may be prepared to accept significant economic losses to protect their sovereignty.

So it would be wrong to conclude that deepening levels of trade interdependence are a guarantee of peace.

Moreover, the historical record is hardly reassuring. During the past 500 years, six of the seven hegemonic challenges to the existing order have led to war or serious conflict: Spain against Holland (16th century); Holland against England (17th century); England against France (18th and 19th centuries); France and Britain against Germany (20th century); Germany against Russia/the Soviet Union (1914-18 and 1941-45); the US against the Soviet Union (1945-89).

Resource insecurity is another important driver of China’s muscular unilateralism. By 2030, up to 80 per cent of China’s oil and 50 per cent of its gas will be imported by sea, through the ­Malacca Strait, a classical maritime choke point due to the narrowness and shallowness of its approaches, the number of ships the pass through it daily and the strait’s vulnerability to interdiction or environmental blockage.

The rate of growth in China’s energy imports has few, if any, historical parallels. In a little more than two decades the country has moved from a net exporter to importing more than 55 per cent of its oil. Even China’s enormous ­reserves of coal are insufficient to meet domestic demand.

In a little noticed development, China became a net importer of coal in 2007 and overtook Japan as the world’s biggest importer of coal at the end of 2011. A substantial proportion of its future coal imports will transit the South China Sea from mines in Australia and Indonesia.

The rich fishing grounds of the western Pacific are also a vital source of fish for the Chinese economy, making them as critical to China’s future food security as oil, gas and coal are to its energy future.

China is the world’s largest fish producer as well as consumer, with the fishing sector contributing $330 billion annually to the economy, about 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product. With wild fish in decline and demand rising, fish have become a strategic commodity, to be protected and defended — if necessary, by force.

This resource vulnerability weighs heavily on the minds of Chinese leaders who, in addition to worrying about terrorism, piracy and environmental disruptions to their energy supplies, are acutely aware that their main competitor, the US, exercises effective control over the Malacca Strait and most of the western ­Pacific, courtesy of the US Navy.

Invoking the so-called Malacca dilemma, former president Hu Jintao gave voice to these anxieties in 2005, and a succession of senior Chinese officials have since made it clear that their nation is no longer prepared to outsource the security of its Pacific trade route to the US 7th Fleet.

China’s strategy is also hostage to the still acutely felt resentment over past injustices suffered at the hands of foreigners when the country was weak.

At one level, this is understandable given the ruthless exploitation of China’s resources by a succession of would-be colonial masters during the long decline of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century, followed by Japan’s brutal ­occupation of Manchuria in the late 1930s.

But victimhood is a poor basis for strategic policy. China’s barely concealed revanchism will do little to convince an increasingly sceptical region that a Pax Sinica would be demonstrably fairer and more stable and peaceful than Pax Americana.

As the Abbott government’s defence white paper team weighs the implications of these developments, what conclusions might it draw? The first is that China’s re-emergence as a great power is likely to be far less benign than optimists had hoped.

After 35 years of relative peace, strategic volatility is destined to supplant stability as the defining characteristic of Asia’s future geopolitical landscape.

Second, China’s challenge to US maritime power in East Asia strikes at a deeply held American conviction that continued naval dominance of the Pacific underpins vital national security interests and the country’s standing as the pre-eminent global power, all but guaranteeing there will be a ­robust response.

Third, Australia cannot be a disinterested observer in any ­future conflict in the western ­Pacific because virtually all our core defence and economic interests are engaged.

Hence the prospect of heightened strategic competition in this maritime domain will clearly shape future strategy.

Fourth, for the first time in its modern history Australia is no longer at the periphery of world affairs, as economic and military power shifts inexorably from the Atlantic to Australia’s Pacific back yard. As one influential US think tank observes, Australia has moved from “down under” to “top centre” strategically because of our proximity to the maritime trade routes of the Indian and ­Pacific oceans.

The key question for the ­defence white paper is whether these developments warrant a change in strategy or the size and composition of the Australian ­Defence Force.

There are many voices arguing for a shift in strategy. Academic Hugh White advocates accommodation of China’s regional ambitions; former prime minister Malcolm Fraser wants Australia to be more independent and less subservient to the US; others contend that we should ally ourselves more closely with the US as a hedge against a new Chinese hegemony in Asia.

Given China’s more assertive recent behaviour, it is difficult to see what a policy of accommodation would achieve other than to further embolden Beijing, which would consequently have even less incentive for acknowledging the territorial claims and interests of its neighbours.

The idea of greater independence seems appealing, especially to those who chafe at Australia’s alliance with the US. However, true independence, in the sense of a non-aligned foreign policy, would be costly financially and risky strategically.

Regular reviews of the benefits that the US alliance brings continue to find that Australia gains more from the alliance than it pays, and polls consistently record high levels of support for ANZUS.

However, there is no doubt that the alliance needs a makeover and an injection of new thinking, given the considerably altered security environment.

Enhanced defence co-operation with the US is a sensible, cost-effective way of building the ADF’s capabilities.

But care should be taken to avoid portraying ANZUS as an anti-China alliance or feeding the misperception that Australia is merely a proxy for the US.

There is also enormous, unrealised potential within the alliance framework for Australia to work more closely with Asian friends and partners, particularly Indonesia and Japan, to advance our common security interests.

Operationally, it will be important to resist the temptation to build a defence force to counter China’s newly acquired military clout. This is well beyond Australia’s modest defence capabilities and would needlessly jeopardise the stable, long-term relationship with China in which all Australian governments have invested heavily over the past three decades.

Such a policy would require a substantial increase in defence spending that would be costly, difficult to sell politically and liable to seriously distort the structure of the ADF, bearing in mind the many other defence tasks requiring funding and resources.

Smart power, leveraging off effective, well-funded defence diplomacy, is far more likely to yield results than a strategy based primarily, or exclusively, on hard power.

The challenge for Australia is to help persuade Beijing that muscular unilateralism is contrary to China’s own interests as well as the region’s, while understanding the limits of Australia’s capacity, as a middle power, to decisively influence military outcomes should there be a serious conflict in the western Pacific.

Our return message to China ought to be that a responsible stakeholder would immediately take steps to reduce maritime conflict by looking for real win-win ­solutions.

These should include the speedy conclusion of a code of conduct on the South China Sea and the negotiation of a western Pacific fisheries management scheme that would complement the parallel development of oil, gas and other mineral resources.

Such an approach would increase trust between China and its neighbours, reduce regional tensions and signal that China is prepared to assume the constructive leadership role in Asia that would make it a truly great power.

Alan Dupont is professor of international security at the University of NSW and a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute.

By Angie M. Rosales
The Daily Tribune 


Chiz7All releases in the obscure Palace creation called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), that accumulated to a total P150 billion, needed the knowledge and approval of President Aquino, which is a process that directly implicates the President in the distribution of the so-called “incentives” given to senator-judges who had voted to convict former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in the 2012 impeachment trial.

Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the Department of Budget Management (DBM) representatives said during yesterday’s hearing regarding the special allotment release orders (SAROs) which were the source of the alleged diversion of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) that funds are known to be part of DAP since all releases from it carried the signature of Aquino.

“I was asking them who identifies funds which are part of the DAP, and according to the DBM, DAP releases needed the signature of President Aquino,” he said.

In a privilege speech last September, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada revealed that P50 million was distributed to members of the Senate court who had issued a guilty verdict on Corona that led to magistrate’s ouster. It was Aquino himself who led the move to oust Corona through his impeachment at the House of Representatives which was controlled by an alliance of Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP).

Described by Estrada as an “incentive”, the money was later found and admitted by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as having been sourced from the DAP which was described as a pool of funds intended to accelerate government spending.

It was just among the series of alleged payouts, supposedly in the form of additional pork barrel which was strikingly similar in purpose to the PDAF. Similar allotments were allegedly offered to lawmakers in deciding on the issues, such as the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, the sin tax bill and the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

In the case supposedly of the aborted impeachment trial of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Abad also sent senators a threatening text message to certain congressmen led by then Liberal Party Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, who is now Transportation and Communications Secretary on the possibility of impounding their pork allocations should they vote against the impeachment of the former Ombudsman.

“According to the DBM, DAP releases need the signature of the President, so that’s what determines it. I asked the question since we don’t know how they classify the DAP. I can’t accept that what they classify as DAP are what constitutes it, we have no basis to verify and to check,” Escudero said.

“So according to them, the check valve, the identifying mark or signature would be the endorsement of the Office of the President,” Escudero added.

The DAP is being challenged, in terms of its constitutionality, with the Supreme Court and the tribunal has been holding oral arguments on it. Todate, the SC has not bothered to rule on the DAP issue.

“We’re trying to get information from them about DAP, in spite and despite and pendency of the Supreme Court case so at least while we are waiting, we can gather information, raw data, on the DAP releases,” Escudero added.

Escudero said his committee is trying to gather data first while awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision, since we might be investigating something that does not constitute any anomaly. That depends on the Supreme Court, so if the High Court ruled it as an anomaly, then at least we have details, Escudero added.

So either way, at least we are not delaying the committee’s inquiry into the DAP as filed by Senator JV (Ejercito), Escudero said.

In case it is ruled unconstitutional, we will cntinue with the inquiry to look into each expenditure made under the program, except if the court rules that the decision is prospective, meaning to say, in which case there’s no further cause to look into it.

Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who first revealed about the existence of DAP, following a report from the Commission on Audit (CoA) on its 2007 to 2009 special audit report as being the alleged source of P100 million in funds supposedly tapped for the projects of bogus non-government organizations (NGOs), immediately raised alarm over the implication of such revelations from the DBM.

“That’s new,” he commented, adding that “there’s a very large legal question that has been asked to the SC” by some stakeholders.

“That’s the reason it’s being questioned before the SC, if such tact is feasible. I think (the issue on savings) is not for other purposes, the realignment without appropriation. They can’t do that. The purse strings are with Congress. That’s one of the powers and functions of both Houses. So all expenditures must be appropriated and the only ones who can do the appropriating is Congress,” he said.

While there are exceptions in the use of unspent budget appropriations, such as realignment within the department or concerned agency before the year ends or before it’s declared as “savings”, it cannot be realigned to other government offices, Marcos emphasized.

DBM director for legal service Rowena Candice Ruiz was asked to explain by Escudero as to how the budget department accounts the funds released by the Executive from DAP or what control mechanism being followed to make government savings impounded for the said program.

“We have a consolidation of the list approved by the President,” Ruiz replied.

“So the President approves this?” Escudero asked to which he was given an affirmative answer, with Ruiz underscoring the fact that those funded by savings “goes to the Office of the President for approval.”

While some unprogrammed funds would have the certification from the national treasurer, since the funding source is not included under the budget expenditures and sources of financing (BESF), there are those tapped from DAP through unprogrammed funds and “it comes with the approval of the President.”

“Because the DAP is a program of the Aquino administration to quickly disperse slow-moving projects,” Ruiz said.

“So you mean to say that there’s actually a document signed by the President that enumerates all of the availments of DAP from savings and from the unprogrammed funds?” the senator further inquired.

“Yes your honor and we submitted that to the SC,” the DBM executive retorted.

Escudero then asked that his committee be furnished with the same submissons made before the high tribunal currently deliberating on filed petitions concerning the legality of the now controversial DAP.

“So all availments of unpro-grammed with national treasurer certification would be under DAP or not ”, he asked.

The Senate panel was also told that there exists a supposed list on all fund releases under DAP, based on the approval of the President, that the DBM prepared or included under the said program. “How will we know if it’s DAP or not?” Escudero asked.

“I was informed that some of the SARO (special allotment release order) may include under the notes, ‘under the DAP’ but only the notes. There’s a portion sir below the SARO where there are notes for additional remarks,” Ruiz said.

“Only those fast and quick disbursing programs and projects are included under the DAP,” she also said.
When asked whether the Executive used savings for other purposes not necessarily under DAP, senators received a positive response.

“My understanding of DAP was that it’s a program on the utilization of savings. So it’s not. You use savings for other purposes not under DAP?” Escudero asked.

“Yes your honor. In fact, there are various funding sources for the DAP. Only one of them is savings. So DAP is not a mechanism to use savings,” Ruiz said, adding that unprogrammed funds are also a source of resources for the said program.

By Marichu A. Villanueva
The Philippine Star 

Buck-stops-here“The buck stops here” is a phrase that was popularized by the late US President Harry S. Truman. He put up this sign on top of his desk at the White House Oval Office during his term and has become a national principle handed down to succeeding US Presidents.

This principle will be tested with the unexpected disclosure made at the Senate committee on finance public hearing called yesterday by Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero. This was in the course of the Senate hearing into the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) being implemented by the administration of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III.

The disclosure came from Rowena Candice Ruiz, director of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) who was among the agency officials invited to shed light on pending resolutions calling for legislative inquiries and referred to the Senate finance committee. One of which is a Senate Resolution filed by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who unwittingly uncovered the once unknown existence of the so-called DAP.

In a privilege speech in September last year, Estrada revealed certain senators, including himself who voted for the conviction of erstwhile Supreme Court (SC) chief justice Renato Corona during the Senate impeachment trial were each rewarded with P50-million “incentives” by the Aquino administration. Estrada questioned the legality of such fund releases in retaliation after he and several other senators were linked to alleged anomalous transactions of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) with businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.

Estrada’s exposé led to a public admission by DBM Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad that indeed there were such fund releases. But Abad cited these were official and regular releases from the annual budget. He explained these come from government savings which were eventually lumped by the DBM into what was dubbed as DAP.

Abad, who was subsequently also implicated by Napoles in the pork barrel controversy, admitted having allocated over P1 billion for the 20 senators who voted to convict Corona in 2012. Little did Abad realize his DAP admission opened up a can of worms that now dragged no less than President Aquino himself.

Under oath in yesterday’s Senate public hearing, Ruiz testified all approvals for DAP pass through the Office of the President before they at the DBM officially release the funds. Without the President’s imprimatur, Ruiz stressed no funds will be ordered released by the DBM.

Asked whether DAP goes all the way to the President, Ruiz replied: “Yes sir. DAP is a program of the Aquino administration to disburse for slowly moving projects.” Although the “lists” of what are these slow moving projects are submitted to them, the DBM cannot make any decision which project or government agency can tap funds out of the DAP, she pointed out. “Lahat po ng list submitted to sa amin. Yun po hinihingan namin approval ni President para magamit sa DAP.” (All of the lists are submitted to us but we ask them to seek approval of the President to use DAP).

In fact, Ruiz told the Senate hearing yesterday the DBM had earlier submitted to the SC the documents that bear the President’s signature that approved the DAP releases made so far by the DBM. According to her, the DBM enumerated all the DAP releases coming from savings and from the un-programmed fund.

On this note, Escudero requested that his Senate committee be given the same copies of these documents. Incidentally, Escudero was also subsequently dragged into the alleged PDAF scam of Napoles. Although he had casual meeting with Napoles, Escudero however vehemently denied having channeled his PDAF allocations to her alleged “bogus” non-government organizations.

Much earlier, the 15-man High Court already decided with finality on the unconstitutionality of the PDAF. This is why the DAP issue is awaited with bated breath.

The constitutionality of the DAP is the subject of nine pending petitions that questioned it before the Supreme Court (SC) in October last year at the height of PDAF scam. Petitioners have scored the Aquino administration for inventing the so-called DAP which they deplored was just another lump sum appropriation unheard off until Abad revealed it.

The High Court conducted oral arguments on these DAP petitions, the last one held in January this year. It has long been submitted for resolution but no ruling yet up to now.

Being the “alter ego” of the President, the DBM Secretary and the rest of P-Noy’s Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority.

Despite being directly pointed to as having taught Napoles the ways to go around the PDAF releases, the Palace reiterated for the nth time P-Noy continues his trust and confidence in his DBM chief.

As the highest elected official of the land, President Aquino has no choice but to assume and accept the responsibilities of his executive action and decision. That’s why the buck stops at his desk at the Office of the President. Will he accept or pass the buck again?

By Jack Greig
The National Interest

Chinese-destroyer-HaribingA recent Foreign Policy article argued that China’s deployment of a billion-dollar offshore oil rig into maritime territory claimed by both Vietnam and China represents a potentially dangerous escalation of tensions in the South China Sea—one signaling China’s determination to exploit energy resources that lie under disputed waters.

Over the past two decades, China has gone from being a net energy exporter to a net energy importer. Forecasts in the 2013 IEA World Energy Outlook show Chinese demand will account for 31% of global net energy demand growth between 2011 and 2035. Its energy demand in 2035 will be double that of the United States and triple that of the European Union. And China’s growing appetite for energy resources will be increasingly backed by its growing naval power—meaning it’ll have options to push the strategic envelope in the South China Sea in order to enhance its own future energy security.

The seabed around the Natuna Islands is gas-rich and falls partly within the boundaries of China’s so-called nine-dash line in the South China Sea. But it’s also a part of Indonesia’s maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Indonesia has asserted on a number occasions that there’s no dispute with China around the EEZ because China’s audacious claim has no basis in international law. But Beijing has simply refused to respond consistently or clearly to Jakarta’s multiple requests for clarification.

At the least, there’s a conflict over the interpretation of the 1982 UNCLOS—and the legal concept that ‘land dominates the seas’—between China and Indonesia. Jakarta’s attempts to find consensus in ASEAN over the South China Sea has rested primarily on diplomatic efforts to engineer a middle-power driven construct—known as ‘dynamic equilibrium’ (PDF)— that might moderate the growing power imbalance in Southeast Asia. Regarding Indonesia’s perspective on China’s long-term interests and role in the region, Rizal Sukma defines (PDF) Indonesia’s relationship with China in terms of ongoing ‘strategic ambiguity’.

The ambiguity that pervades the relationship is driven in part by historical anxieties. Beijing and Jakarta suspended diplomatic relations for 23 years after Suharto’s ascent to power. Their resumption in 1990 did not prevent another crisis in the relationship in 1994 over the treatment of Chinese Indonesians in North Sumatra. In 1998, during the height of the Asian Financial Crisis and Jakarta riots, Chinese Indonesians were again targeted, resulting in thousands fleeing abroad. Even though both countries are currently reaping the economic benefits of good relations, Jakarta can’t help but factor Chinese coercive practices elsewhere in the region into its strategic thinking.

Most notably, TNI chief General Moeldoko recently acknowledged that ‘[Indonesia’s] main challenges in the near future were disputes over areas of the South China Sea and border security’. As Scott Bentley recently identified in his CSIS cogitASIA article, there’s good reason to believe that this sort of rhetoric signals a shift in the TNI’s strategic priorities, at least within the military leadership.

But analysts remain divided over how much can be read into decisions to review force posture across the archipelago that will see military assets significantly bolstered at the Ranai airbase on the Natuna Islands. On that particular point, Evan Laksmana has suggested that the TNI is speaking out of kilter with the foreign ministry and the policies of the wider Indonesian establishment.

Still, on the issue of China’s growing sphere of influence in the South China Sea the foreign ministry and TNI do see eye-to-eye. Speaking in February after the implementation of China’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa warned, ‘we have firmly told China we will not accept a similar zone if it is adopted in the South China Sea’.

Even though both China and Indonesia currently enjoy a remarkable stint of amicable relations, tensions in the South China Sea are continuing to simmer. So Jakarta should maintain its push for clarity with an official agreement that excises the Natuna Islands EEZ from all iterations of the nine-dash line map. Bentley’s suggestion that Jakarta ought to situate its diplomatic policy within a wider strategic framework—in order to more proactively manage its maritime environment—is also a pertinent one. Future scenarios that involve Indonesia having to take steps to protect its national interests in the South China Sea are plausible.

It’s in Australia’s strategic interests that the region remains stable and that Indonesia enjoy good relations with China—albeit not at the expense of good Australian-Indonesian relations. As such, Canberra could offer diplomatic support to Jakarta for proposals that would enhance a rules-based system in the South China Sea. Expending diplomatic capital to improve the security of our nearest neighbor would be a good strategic investment.

Jack Greig is a visiting analyst at ASPI. These are his personal views. The following article first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist publication here.

By Perry Diaz

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin drink a toast to the signing of the gas mega-deal.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin drink a toast to the signing of the gas mega-deal.

What happens if Russia and China joined forces? They would be a formidable economic and military power at par with the United States. Last May 21, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a $400-billion mega-deal wherein Russia would supply Siberian gas to China for 30 years. That would put into action the “strategic partnership” that Putin and Xi had envisioned at their first summit a year ago in Moscow.

Historically distrustful of each other, they had to put aside any differences they had – including border issues — to pursue their own interests. In all appearances, their alliance was a “marriage of convenience.” As Lord Palmerston, a former British Prime Minister, once said, “We have no permanent allies, we have no permanent enemies, we only have permanent interests.”

If there is one thing that is common to Russia and China, it’s their penchant for grabbing land. Russia had been grabbing land and extending her domain since the time of the czars. When the communists took over the Russian Empire in 1922, they formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which unified 15 republics including the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics.

Old glory

Catherine the Great of the Russian Empire.

Catherine the Great of the Russian Empire.

Lately, Putin declared that Mother Russia has a right to defend or come to the assistance of ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking people in the “near abroad” – that is, the Eastern European countries that were formerly associated with or part of the dismembered USSR. Because of this policy – called Putinism – pro-Russians in the erstwhile Ukrainian province of Crimea were emboldened to secede from Ukraine and offered to join Russia, which Putin gladly accepted.

With the specter of Russian intervention in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and others in the “near abroad,” the U.S. and her NATO allies have been sending troops and military assets to their beleaguered allies.

In his annual state of the nation address to the Russian parliament in 2006, Putin said, “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.” His recent expansionist adventure manifests his fervent desire to restore the old glory of Imperial Russia.

Imperial China

Emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty.

Emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty.

In the case of China, her history of land-grabbing dates back to 221 BC when the Qin dynasty conquered and unified the “seven warring states” under the Han kingdom. Over the next two millennia, China invaded, conquered, and annexed other nations. In 1274 and 1281, China, under Kublai Khan, invaded Japan but failed.

In 1405, during the reign of the Ming Dynasty in China, Emperor Yung Lo claimed the island of Luzon and placed it under his empire. When Yung Lo died in 1424, the new Emperor Hongxi, Yung Lo’s son, lost interest in the colony and the colonial government was dissolved.

In 1691, the Qing Dynasty conquered and annexed the land of the Zunghar Mongols (Inner Mongolia). Next was Xinjiang in 1759. More followed.

When the communists took over China in 1949, Chinese leader Mao Zedong outlined his global goal: “We must conquer the globe where we will create a powerful state.” In 1951, the first country to fall was Tibet. Consequently, China annexed and declared Tibet as a “core national interest.”

Territorial disputes

China-and-neighbors-mapCurrently, China has territorial disputes with 22 neighboring countries, to wit: Japan, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Nepal, North Korea, the Philippines, South Korea, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Laos, Brunei, Tajikistan, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Afghanistan. She also claims about 90% of the entire South China Sea including the more than 300 islands that extend farther to the East China and Yellow Seas. Mao asserted that these territories were lost due to the fall of the Qing Empire. And now, Xi wants them back.

Today, under Xi’s leadership, China has intensified her claims in the South and East China Seas, particularly in disputed territories with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Xi and Putin shake hands at their first summit in Moscow on March 22, 2013.

Xi and Putin shake hands at their first summit in Moscow on March 22, 2013.

In my article, “New World Disorder” (March 26, 2013), I wrote: “Upon his ascension to the presidency, Xi’s first venture outside China was to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At their summit in Kremlin last March 22, the two leaders agreed to form a ‘strategic partnership’ to advance their countries’ interests. They affirmed their mutual support for each country’s geostrategic and territorial interests, which include territorial disputes. With more than 20 territorial disputes that China is embroiled with various countries — including Japan, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam — this could put Russia squarely on the paths of conflict, which could involve the United States who has mutual defense treaties with at least four of China’s adversaries.

“In the economic front, the new China-Russia strategic partnership would bind the two countries in jointly developing Russia’s most strategic economic resources — oil, gas, and coal — to meet China’s massive current and future energy requirements.

“One of the summit’s immediate results was an agreement for Russia to triple her oil supplies to China in exchange for a $2-billion loan. In addition, the two countries agreed on a preliminary deal to build a gas pipeline. Indeed, with Russia as one of the world’s largest energy producers and China the world’s number one energy consumer, one can say that Xi got a ‘sweetheart deal’ he couldn’t resist.”

Russia-China-Iran Axis

21st Century triumvirs?

21st Century triumvirs?

On the day Xi and Putin signed the gas deal in Shanghai, Xi hosted the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, which was attended by leaders from 26 countries. Putin attended the summit as well as Iran’s supreme leader, Hassan Rouhani, whose country is one of the biggest suppliers of oil to China.

These three authoritarian dictators appear to pursue a common goal, which brings to mind the Germany-Japan-Italy Axis 75 years ago. As we all know, the German-Japan-Italy Axis was an evil enterprise designed to subjugate and plunder the world.

Is a Russia-China-Iran Axis in the offing? History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. And just like the old Axis, the new Axis will fail, too. Can’t these dictators ever learn from history?


By Val G. Abelgas

ASEAN-flagsWith the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reduced to a toothless tiger that could only urge “restraint” and express “serious concern” over developments in the region without even mentioning the name of China, we can now expect Asia’s bully to become even more assertive in its claim to nearly the entire South China Sea.

Even as China recklessly pulled an oilrig into an area in the Spratly islands also claimed by Vietnam, triggering a naval standoff between the two neighboring countries and further escalating tension in the region, all the ASEAN leaders could do was issue a toothless statement that China simply ignored.

The failure of the leaders of the 10-member aggrupation of Southeast Asian nations to come up with a stronger statement against China’s bullying tactics in the disputed sea has only confirmed ASEAN’s waning influence that has now emboldened the neighborhood toughie to assert its dominance over the region.

The weak and tentative stand by the United States on China’s aggressive behavior has not helped any and has instead led the hawks in Beijing’s leadership to believe that the Americans would not intervene in the dispute.

While the State Department and ranking US defense and military officials have repeatedly reassured allies that the US would come to their defense, Asian allies like Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam have yet to see a stronger response, such as sending warships to the area, that would show the Chinese bullies that America is seriously concerned about the situation.

The four-nation visit of US President Obama has not reassured its allies but has only led to more questions about America’s willingness to confront China, militarily if need be, if the latter elevates its assertiveness to a higher level.

A day before Obama started his Asian visit, the State Department had to clarify that the trip and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that was going to be signed with the Philippines prior to the US President’s arrival was not directed at China. The US seemed more concerned about appeasing China than reassuring its allies.

Both the Mutual Defense Treaty and the newly signed EDCA are silent about a possible creeping invasion of territories within the Philippines’ 200-mile economic zone that are also being claimed by China. While the two agreements ensure that the US would come to the defense of the Philippines in case of external attacks, American officials have always maintained that the US would not interfere in territorial disputes.

There is no assurance that if China decides to send troops to Ayungin Shoal, Recto Bank, Mabini Reef or any other island that are well within the country’s 200-mile economic zone that the Americans would help repulse such an invasion.

There is no definite answer as to when the Americans would finally come in as far as the disputed islands and reefs are concerned. The Chinese could very well finish building the airstrip on Mabini Reef, remove the Navy derelict Sierra Madre that houses a handful of Philippine Marines, pull another oil rig to oil-rich Recto Bank and station troops on the islands and we wouldn’t know if the Americans would even help us defend these territories.

“The Obama administration risks letting this spin out of control if it doesn’t display a muscular naval presence just to remind the Chinese that they don’t own the South China Sea, yet,” said John Tkacik, a former China expert in the US State Department.

“Washington really needs to dish out the same toughness that Beijing is throwing in its face,” he said. “President Obama has to remind China that it undertook a commitment in 2002 to avoid provocative behavior in the South China Sea, and explicitly condemn Beijing for fomenting a crisis.”

Tkacik was referring to the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which China signed in 2002 in Cambodia along with the ASEAN member countries. China and the other signatories resolved, among other things, to “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

With the hawks in the Chinese Communist Party, led by Premier Xi Jin-ping, at the helm, the Chinese have obviously dumped the agreement and now act in the disputed sea according to their own rules.

They have become so emboldened that a top Chinese foreign official was quoted as saying that the US is avoiding a direct confrontation with China, noting what he called the reluctance of the US towards military involvement in Syria and Ukraine.

China is obviously testing whether the US would respond in terms of sending warships to the area rather than just by words. A weak response by the Americans to China’s provocative actions could further embolden the Chinese to do even more aggressive actions.

Obviously, China has no respect for, or has its own narrow interpretation of international laws and would refuse to participate or honor any ruling in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines before international courts. While the Philippine government is right in pursuing the case, it must also take actions to prepare for any eventuality that the rising tension in the disputed sea would flare up into a shooting war.

The countries that are being bullied by China – the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and possibly Indonesia in the near future – cannot stand up to China alone. They have to rally the ASEAN to put up a stronger stand against China’s provocative actions and if ASEAN refuses, they should form their own alliance, hopefully with the help of the US and other nations, and stand up to the neighborhood toughie.


By Benjamin B. Pulta
The Daily Tribune

Sandra-Cam.2Whistle-blower Association president Sandra Cam in morning radio interview said Leila de Lima’s Depart-ment of Justice (DoJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) were given P150 million by alleged brains of the pork scam Janet Lim-Napoles for the two agencies to drop the case of serious illegal detention filed by Benhur Luy against her.

Cam said she has the two documents, one, a DoJ dismissal of the serious illegal detention complaint against Napoles, and the second one, the opposite of the dismissal, which was finding probable cause in the case.

She also named the ex-husband of De Lima and Napoles’ lawyer meeting with then NBI director Nonatus Rojas.

Cam said in the interview that the reason the DoJ-NBI came out with the second finding of the same complaint was that the P150 million while given to the NBI and DoJ officials, headed by De Lima, did not trickle down to the lower ranking officials who had threatened to expose this bribe.

De Lima downplayed Cam’s disclosure that officials of the DoJ and the NBI received P150 million in hush money from Napoles.

Cam also called on De Lima Wednesday during the weekly Fernandina Forum in Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan to resign her post saying she had already lost her credibility.

De Lima dismissed the claim of Cam saying the accusation is “too much.”

“That’s too much already. It’s not worth my while. These are absolutely hogwash. What’s her problem?”, De Lima told reporters in an ambush interview at the DoJ when asked to comment on the claim.

Cam stressed in her radio interview that it is impossible for De Lima not to know that there were two contrary findings, as she is the DoJ chief and such cases pass through her, even if her signature does not appear in the resolutions.

The DOJ chief stressed such claims and accusations will not dampen her spirit and her mandate even as she said she respects the right of Cam and everybody to air his voice and even call for her resignation.

“I have more important things to do in the matter of the PDAF, about Napoles. These are just some of the important things that I am doing in the fulfillment of my mandate,” De Lima said.

“Are they trying to dampen my spirit and my will? I don’t think they will succeed if that’s their objective, just for me to lose interest in what I am doing. Go ahead that’s their right. I will not prevent them from doing that. That’s the prerogative of anyone. People have different perspectives, people have different impressions about me,” she added.

“Can you also ask them, I’m also wondering what’s their problem. They are trying to destroy me, they are trying to destroy the institution,” De Lima said.

Notwithstanding the resignation call and even a threat from Cam and her group to gather one million signatures to press for her resignation, De Lima said she still believes she has the President’s confidence as well as support from the majority of the public.

“Most people still believe in me and that is what is important for me. The President and the general public’s opinion will be my gauge on whether to reign or not,” she added.

On her claim that she has the support of the the majority of the public and where she bases this claim, she did not say.

Cam said her revelation is only meant to show that the Napoles scam has influenced not just legislators but investigators such as the DoJ.

She said her group is now getting information from the Anti-Money Laundering Council on Napoles’ withdrawal of the P150 million.

“Rojas resigned without even turning over his work to the next chief because, per our source, Rojas got P30 million and the rest was given to DoJ,” she stressed.